A heart-to-heart with Bob Huggins changed Juwan Staten’s outlook, career

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Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we will be previewing the Big 12.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

West Virginia’s Juwan Staten was one of the best players in the Big 12 last season, earning the honor of being named first-team all-Big 12 player over the likes of Joel Embiid and Georges Niang.

He was terrific, averaging 18.4 points, 5.8 assists and 5.6 rebound despite being listed as a 6-foot point guard. Those numbers were good enough to convince the Big 12 voters to overlook the fact that the Mountaineers were only able to manage a 17-16 record and a trip to the NIT. They were also impressive enough to make you wonder: Where the heck did this come from?

As a sophomore, in Staten’s first season playing with the Mountaineers, he averaged just 7.6 points and 3.3 assists on a team that bookended a 13-19 season with a 34-point beat-down at the hands of Gonzaga on national television and a seven-game losing streak. That came after Staten had redshirted the 2011-12 following a transfer from Dayton. Before Bob Huggins made the decision to bring Staten into the program, he first made a call to Steve Smith, Staten’s head coach at Oak Hill Academy (Virginia), a prep school known for churning out as much basketball talent as anyone in the country.

That includes Ty Lawson, Rajon Rondo and Brandon Jennings.

“Steve said that he was probably the best point guard that he’s ever had,” Huggins told NBCSports.com this month, but through three seasons of college basketball, Staten looked anything but the part.

RELATED: NBCSports.com 2014-2015 Big 12 Preview Rick Barnes turns Texas around

That all changed when Huggins had a sit-down with Staten following the 2012-13 season. The message he needed to get across? If you don’t want to do things my way, then pack your bags.

“Coach Huggs, he basically told me that he needed me to be an extension of him,” Staten told NBCSports.com. “Some things that we have to do within our program, with me being around and knowing how things go, he just wanted me to step up and be a leader. Put guys in their place when they’re doing the wrong thing and give them encouragement when they’re doing the right thing. Let them know what we’re supposed to be doing here. Be that voice that the guys hear away from practice.

“All the players don’t always agree with everything that’s going on, but as a leader, it’s your job to find out what the coach wants and how to get the players to do that.”

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Huggins dismissed that heart-to-heart in a way that only he can — “If you look at what our record was that year, I had that conversation with a lot of people,” he muttered, which is about the best way to describe the twangy, choppy way that Huggy Bear speaks. “Like, all of them. Every single one of them.” — but in talking with Staten, it’s easy to see that his message got through.

“My mentality changed,” Staten said. “I didn’t really have the season that I wanted to have as a sophomore, and that tested me. It put things in perspective. Time’s running out. You either have to start putting it down or think about something else that you want to do with your life. I got a little more focused and serious about the game. It changed my approach. I started taking more of a business approach to the game, falling in love with the process.”

And what is “the process”?

For Staten, it was about more than simply getting in the gym and doing the same drills and workouts that he’s done throughout his career and will continue to do as long as he’s playing the game.

Huggins has been coaching this game for a long time — as Staten put it, “since before I was born” — and he’s had quite a few stars work their way through his Cincinnati and West Virginia programs. There were two, however, that piqued the interest of Staten: Nick Van Exel and Steve Logan. He got Huggins to bring him game film from when those two were playing in college, spending hours pouring over those tapes.

He wasn’t just studying their moves, however. His goal wasn’t to learn how to cross a defender over like Van Exel could or hit the same kind of pull-up threes that Logan shot. The sets that Huggins runs these days aren’t that different from what he ran in the 90s, and what Staten wanted to learn was when, in the flow of the offense, those two were able to attack.

“I just wanted to see where they got their shots from, where they were able to create out of and what opportunities the offense was able to open up for them,” he said. “After that it was pretty clear where I would be able to get my shots.”

It sure was.

The problem, however, was that all those shots and all that production led the Mountaineers to a first round ouster from the NIT. As good as Staten is, as bright as his professional future may be, the sport just isn’t as fulfilling when you’re not winning consistently, and Staten says there are two things that he can do to change that next season that go beyond extending his three-point range.

It starts with “grasping the concept of being a point guard,” he said. “Knowing the time and score, learning my teammates a little better, what situations do we run what plays in to get an easy basket.” He also hopes to be able to lead his team better in close games. Staten traveled to both the Point Guard Skills Academy in New Jersey and LeBron James camp in Las Vegas this summer, and the way he tells it, he has a better feel for “knowing how to close games”.

But if West Virginia is truly going to be able to earn an at-large bid this season, it’s going to be about more than just Staten.

“We’ve got to guard and we’ve got to rebound,” Huggins said. “There are two constants in basketball: the ability to defend and the ability to rebound. We got away from really what was the staple of what we were all about.”

“Everybody’s wants to win,” Staten added. “When you’re not winning, it makes things a little more difficult because people start questioning what’s going on. They want ot sart putting their own ideas into things.

“It’s all about trusting the process.”

Staten knows better than anyone.

John Petty Jr. returns to Alabama for senior season

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama guard John Petty Jr. is staying in school instead of entering the NBA draft.

The Crimson Tide junior announced his decision to return for his senior season Monday on Twitter, proclaiming: “I’m back.”

Petty, the Tide’s top 3-point shooter, averaged 14.5 points and a team-high 6.6 rebounds rebounds last season. He was second on the team in assists.

Petty made 85 3-pointers in 29 games, shooting at a 44% clip.

Alabama coach Nate Oats called him “one of the best, if not the best, shooters in the country.”

“He’s made it clear that it’s his goal to become a first round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft and we’re going to work with him to make sure he’s in the best position to reach that goal,” Oats said.

Fellow Tide guard Kira Lewis Jr. is regarded as a likely first-round draft pick.

McKinley Wright IV returns to Colorado

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McKinley Wright IV will be back for season No. 4 with the Colorado Buffaloes.

The point guard tested the NBA draft process before announcing a return for his senior year. It’s a big boost for a Buffaloes team that’s coming off a 21-11 mark in 2019-20 and was potentially looking at an NCAA Tournament bid before the season was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wright was an All-Pac-12 first team selection a season ago, along with an all-defensive team pick. He and athletic forward Tyler Bey declared for the draft in late March. Bey remains in the draft.

“We’ve got unfinished business,” said Wright, who averaged 14.4 points and 5.0 assists per game last season.

Midway through the season, the Buffaloes were looking like a lock for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since ’15-16. Then, the team hit a five-game skid, including a loss to Washington State in the Pac-12 tournament. Simply put, they hit a defensive rut they just couldn’t shake out of, Wright said. It drove him to work that much harder in the offseason.

“This is my last go-around and I’ve got big dreams,” the 6-footer from Minnesota said. “I want to take CU to a place they haven’t been in a while. We want to go back to the tournament and win high-level games.”

The feedback from NBA scouts was reaffirming for Wright. He said they appreciated his transition game, movement away from the ball and his defensive intangibles. They also gave Wright areas he needed to shore up such as assist-to-turnover ratio and shooting the 3-pointer with more consistency.

He took it to heart while training in Arizona during the pandemic. He recently returned to Boulder, Colorado, where he’s going through quarantine before joining his teammates for workouts.

“The work I put in and the time I spent in the gym compared to all my other offseasons, it’s a big gap,” Wright said. “Last offseason, I thought I worked hard. But it was nothing compared to the time and different type of mindset I put myself in this year.”

Another motivating factor for his return was this: a chance to be the first in his family to earn his college degree. He’s majoring in ethnic studies with a minor in communications.

“My grandparents are excited about that. My parents are excited about that,” Wright said. “I’m excited about that as well.”

Wright also has an opportunity to take over the top spot on the school’s all-time assists list. His 501 career assists trail only Jay Humphries, who had 562 from 1980-84. Wright also ranks 13th all-time with 1,370 career points.

NOTES: Colorado announced the death of 95-year-old fan Betty Hoover, who along with her twin sister, Peggy Coppom, became fixtures at Buffs sporting events and were season ticket holders since 1958. Wright used to run into them not only on the court, but at the local bank. “I’ve never met anyone as loving and supporting and caring as those two,” Wright said. “They hold a special place in my heart. It sucks that Betty won’t be at any games this year. Maybe we can do something, put her name on our jersey. They’re two of the biggest fans in CU history.”

Jared Butler returns to Baylor

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Baylor got some huge news on Monday as potential All-American Jared Butler announced that he will be returning to school for his junior season, joining MaCio Teague is pulling his name out of the 2020 NBA Draft to get the band back together.

Butler was Baylor’s leading scorer a season ago, averaging 16.0 points and 3.1 assists for a team that went 26-4, spent a portion of the season as the No. 1 team in the country and was in line to receive a 1-seed had the 2020 NCAA Tournament taken place.

With Butler and Teague coming back to school, the Bears will return four starters from last season’s squad. Starting center Freddie Gillespie is gone, as is backup guard Devonte Bandoo, but those are holes that can be filled. Tristan Clark, who was Baylor’s best player during the 2018-19 season before suffering a knee injury that lingered through last year, will be back, and there is more than enough talent in the program to replace the scoring pop of Bandoo. Matthew Mayer will be in line for more minutes, while transfer Adam Flagler will be eligible this season.

Baylor will enter this season as a consensus top three team in the country. They will receive plenty of votes as the No. 1 team in the sport, making them not only a very real contender for the Big 12 regular season crown but one of the favorites to win the national title.

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As MaCio Teague returns, Baylor now awaits Jared Butler’s NBA draft decision

Butler is the key.

Baylor was one of college basketball’s best defensive teams last year. They finished fourth nationally in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric, a ranking that dropped after they Bears lost two of their last three games to TCU and West Virginia. Where they struggled was on the offensive end of the floor. The Bears would go through droughts were points were at a premium and their best offense was a missed shot. Butler’s intrigue for NBA teams was his ability to shoot and to create space in isolation. He’s the one guy on the roster that can create something out of nothing for himself.

And now he is back to try and lead Baylor to a Final Four.

Arizona State’s Martin to return for senior season

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TEMPE, Ariz. (–Arizona State guard Remy Martin is withdrawing from the NBA draft and will return for his senior season in the desert.

“I’m blessed to have the opportunity to coach Remy Martin for one more season,” Sun Devils coach Bobby Hurley said in a statement Sunday. “Remy will be one of the best players in college basketball this year and will be on a mission to lead Arizona State basketball in its pursuit of championships.”

A 6-foot guard, Martin is the Pac-12’s leading returning scorer after averaging 19.1 points in 2019-20. He also averaged 4.1 assists per game and helped put the Sun Devils in position to reach the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year before the season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Martin’s return should put Arizona State among the favorites to win the Pac-12 next season.

Martin joins fellow guard Alonzo Verge Jr. in returning to the Sun Devils after testing the NBA waters. Big man Romello White declared for the draft and later entered the transfer portal.

Hurley has signed one of the program’s best recruiting classes for next season, headed by five-star guard Josh Christopher.

Michigan State forward Xavier Tillman will remain in the 2020 NBA Draft

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In the end, Xavier Tillman Sr.’s decision whether or not to return to remain in the 2020 NBA Draft for his senior season came down to security.

A 6-foot-8 forward that averaged 13.7 points, 10.3 boards, 3.0 assists and 2.1 blocks this past season, Tillman was an NBC Sports third-team All-American a season ago. He’s projected as the No. 23 pick in the latest NBC Sports mock draft. He was the best NBA prospect that had yet to make a decision on his future until Sunday.

That’s when Tillman announced that he will be foregoing his final season of college eligibility to head to the NBA.

In the end, it’s probably the right decision, but it’s not one that the big fella made easily.

Tillman is unlike most college basketball players forced to make a decision on their basketball future. He is married. He has two kids, a three-year old daughter and a six-month old son. This is not a situation where he can bet on himself, head to the pro ranks and figure it out later on.

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He needs something stable, particularly given the fact that we are living in the midst of a pandemic that has put the future of sports in doubt, at least for the short term.

He needs security.

He needed to know that there would be a job for him in the NBA. Not a two-way contract. Not a spot on a camp roster or a chance to develop in the G League. Hell, there might not even be a G League next season. That was an option at Michigan State. He was living in an apartment with his family that was covered by his scholarship and stipend. He had meals paid for. He was able to take food from the training room home and have dinner with his family. He was able to get to class, to the gym, to practice and back home in time to do the dishes at night. He told NBC Sports in March that the school was able to provide him with $1,200-a-month to help pay for things like diapers high chairs. That was all going to be there if he returned to school. It was a great situation, one that lacked the uncertainty that comes with the professional level.

Because as much as I love Tillman as a role player at the next level, NBA teams do not all feel the same. The tricky thing about the draft is that it makes sense to swing for the fences on the guys that can be locked into salaries for the first four years of a contract. The Toronto Raptors took Pascal Siakam with the 27th pick and have paid less than $7 million in total salary in his first four years for a player that made an all-star team. Kyle Kuzma is averaging 16.0 points through three seasons and is on the books for $3.5 million in year four.

Tillman’s ability to defend, his basketball IQ, his play-making and his professional demeanor means that he can step into the modern NBA and do a job as a rotation player for just about any team in the league. But he doesn’t have the upside that other bigs in the same projected range have — Jalen Smith, Daniel Oturu, Jaden McDaniels, Zeke Nnaji — so there are teams that are scared off.

I don’t get it.

But Tillman’s decision to head to the professional ranks indicates that he does, indeed, feel confident in the fact that he will have gainful and steady employment next season. Since he would have walked at Michigan State’s graduation in May had it been held, that doesn’t leave much to return to school for.

The Spartans will now be left in a tough spot. There are quite a few pieces to like on this roster. Rocket Watts had promising moments as a freshman, as did Malik Hall. Gabe Brown and Marcus Bingham are both talented players. Joey Hauser had a good season at Marquette, and the early returns on freshman Mady Sissoko are promising. But this is going to be a young and unproven group.

Izzo has had less at his disposal before, but this is certainly not an ideal situation for Michigan State.